Although mold illness is not as prevalent as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer, the number of people affected is growing. In just the last 5 years, I’m seeing an increasing frequency of patients with mold illness as one of the root causes of the multiple symptoms they are dealing with.
What is Mold Illness?
Mold illness is a condition where the immune system becomes hypersensitive/hyperreactive to mold exposure which causes inflammation in multiple systems in the body. Mold is a biotoxin, a term referring to toxin originating from a living organism. Mold exposure very often occurs from living or working in water damaged buildings with mold growth. A very small percentage of patients with mold illness acquire the condition from consuming moldy food and/or food containing mold-derived ingredients, such the citric acid that is derived from black mold (aka Aspergillus Niger). Some patients that have become sick from mold exposure from water damaged buildings, and may later find hypersensitivity to mold in food. It is important to note that although mold is classified as a biotoxin, not everyone gets affected by it. In a family that lives together, only one person may become ill. A spouse may not get sick, while the rest of his or her family gets sick from the mold.
Many patients with mold illness are diagnosed with Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS). The definition of CIRS is:
An acute and chronic, systemic inflammatory response syndrome acquired following exposure to the interior environment of a water-damaged building with resident toxigenic organisms, including, but not limited to fungi, bacteria, actinomycetes and mycobacteria as well as inflammagens such as endotoxins, beta glucans, hemolysins, proteinases, mannans and possibly spirocyclic drimanes; as well as volatile organic compounds.
However, not everyone with mold illness end up having CIRS. I’ve had patients that presented with signs and symptoms of mold illness that did not show indication of CIRS from laboratory tests, and after moving out of the moldy environment and completing a detox, have fully recovered.
What Are the Mold Exposure Symptoms?
A vast majority of doctors have difficulty diagnosing mold illness, so many patients see multiple doctors until they eventually find one who has experience and knowledge of this, or until they find information that leads them to seek mold-illness-literate physicians.
The difficulty with identifying mold illness is understandable because this condition affects multiple systems in the body. For instance, a patient may show symptoms of diabetes, but does not have abnormal numbers for A1C, fasting glucose and insulin on blood tests. Another patient may have hypertension that is triggered by mold exposure, and common hypertension medications do not work well or do not work at all.
If we collate all mold exposure symptoms from all doctors who treat mold illness it will be a long list. Here’s a list of the most common symptoms I have come across.
Common Mold Exposure Symptoms:
- “brain fog” – difficulty concentrating/focusing,
- memory loss/forgetfulness, difficulty remembering words
- chronic fatigue, tiredness even with enough sleep, weakness
- chemical sensitivities
- anxiety and/or depression
- body aches and pain, joint pain
- food sensitivities/intolerances
Mold Illness Testing & Diagnosis
There are two types of mold illness testing, a set of blood tests and urine test. Mold illness diagnosis is done using blood and/or urine tests together with a thorough medical history and physical exam.
For proper diagnosis of mold illness, a physician must use blood tests for mold exposure and medical history and physical exam. Using just one or the other is not sufficient and could lead to misdiagnosis. One can develop CIRS from mold exposure, however, research also indicates bacteria and various viral infections are also implicated in the development of CIRS. Thus, the patient’s history and exam are required to properly identify if the illness is from mold exposure.
I don’t typically use the urine test because I find I get enough information without it.
A thorough medical history is the first and most important step towards diagnosis. If medical history is pointing to common CIRS symptoms, even if only a few of the CIRS blood tests show up positive and most are negative, but the patient gets better by avoiding mold infested buildings or foods/additives typically high in mold/yeasts, I’m going to treat them as if they have mold associated illness.
Is there a Natural Mold Illness Treatment?
If you are wondering if there’s a natural treatment for mold illness, in one word, yes.
With many patients with mold illness having chemical sensitivities, a natural treatment is necessary. The type of treatment I use varies based by case. In all of the cases, the most important action is to move out of the moldy environment. I’ve had a few cases where I just emphasized moving out of the home or workplace with mold and that’s the only thing they’ve had to do. In those cases, I would say that those people have no or little detoxification impairment. For example, I’ve had some cases where in addition to moving from the where there was mold growth, they completed about 8 weeks of detoxification, and that was enough for their recovery. And then there are patients with very complex cases. Many of them have had mold exposure for years or decades without knowing that the mold is the main root causes where almost all of their ailments originate from. For those diagnosed with CIRs, I do a comprehensive CIRS treatment. See below.
In a nutshell, I follow Dr. Shoemaker’s Protocol in principle. I use natural binders in place of CSM or Welchol, and I use nutraceuticals in each step to elicit an effect on the processes that result in the abnormal blood test parameters. Diet and lifestyle health restoration methods are essential.
What Are Common Mold Illness Complications?
If not diagnosed, and mold exposure continues and proper treatment is not initiated until much later, I have seen people with extreme chronic fatigue leading to complete disability and/or inability to work or function normally. I have also seen the beginning of neurodegenerative disease, demyelinating diseases or dementia-like symptoms. There are also patients that end up being bedridden or wheelchair-bound. Severe impairment in immune regulation could lead to cancer development.
For a successful CIRS treatment, I follow Dr. Shoemaker’s Step by Step Mold Illness Treatment. However, my approach differs from his in that:
- I focus on non-pharmaceutical treatment options.
- My approach relies heavily on dietary and lifestyle factors. Having almost 3 decades of experience in restoring health through diet and lifestyle methods, I’ve seen this approach to be very effective in most cases.
- I evaluate the patient’s gut health and fix the problems I find. Gut health is key to proper functioning of all body systems, especially the immune system and the nervous system. Because mold illness largely affects the immune system, and the nervous system is very often affected, restoring gut health is necessary for recovery.
Douglas Husbands DC IFMCP
Dr. Husbands is an Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner, Doctor of Chiropractic and Certified Clinical Nutritionist. He specializes in digestive disorders, autoimmune conditions, mold-related illness, and musculoskeletal conditions, such as herniated disc and sciatica. He’s been in practice for over 28 years, with the last 12 years in San Carlos, CA.
He is a San Francisco native, and he loves the Giants. [Read Full Bio]